Rob Hobart

Author, Game Designer

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Heroes of Rokugan I

Heroes of Rokugan II

L5R Homebrew

Download Part One of The Adventure
Download Part Two of The Adventure

The big GenCon 2004 premier was the campaign’s first two-round scenario since A Foreign Legacy – and fittingly, this one also featured the Shadow and the Unicorn Clan. This module had a very complex background that went back to stuff I had done in my home campaigns in 1998-2001. When I was first running L5R in those days, I knew very little about the CCG storylines (other than what I could glean from my modest card collection) and drew nearly all my inspiration from the RPG books – all of which I read cover-to-cover. This intense reading caused me to notice some subtle hints that the Kami Shinjo was not actually dead and might someday return to Rokugan. My mind started chewing on this… Shinjo had disappeared while battling the Lying Darkness, so what had happened to her afterward? The Shadow would not kill her, but centuries of imprisonment might be enough for even a Kami to succumb to corruption. And who were the Shadow’s greatest enemies within Rokugan? Why, the Unicorn Clan itself (which knew about the Shadow and had access to crystal)… and the Kolat, which controlled the Unicorn. So I conceived a storyline in which Shinjo did indeed return to Rokugan, but as a puppet of the Shadow. She would expose and purge the Kolat from the Unicorn Clan, weakening both the conspiracy and the clan. The PCs were eventually forced to “kill” Shinjo, whose soul -- freed from the Shadow -- then took up residence in Otaku Kamoko’s body. Just a few weeks after I had introduced this storyline in my home campaign, the next L5R CCG set came out, and Shinjo (pure in the canon version) returned to the Empire to… purge the Kolat from the Unicorn Clan. Great minds think alike! (The card title I used for this module was a card from that very set, specifically depicting Shinjo’s “purge” of the Kolat.)

Once I decided to have the HoR storyline combine the War Against the Darkness with the Clan War, I knew I could use my version of “Shinjo returns” as a major plot-point (and a way to remove Otaku Kamoko as the Unicorn Thunder). The storyline would initially seem predictable to any players who knew the L5R canon, but then would clobber them with an unexpected and shocking twist. I deliberately set up the climax of Round One in such a way that the PCs would not be completely confident that Shinjo was Shadow-corrupted, forcing them to make a profound decision (whether or not to strike her with the crystal dagger supplied to them by Iuchi Daiyu) on limited data. I also incorporated the return of the Desert Moto into the second round of the module, with the PCs playing a key role in that story as well.

While working out exactly how to turn all of this into a module, I decided to draw on a very memorable moment from my second home campaign in 2000-2001: a Goju ambush inside an inn, while the PCs are relaxing and unarmed, their gear stowed away in their rooms and in the "sword cabinet" at the inn's entrance. In the home game this event (which I created improvisationally from almost no preparation) had a profound impact, with the PCs permanently losing spell-scrolls, equipment, and irreplaceable ancestral swords (with commensurate Honor and Glory hits), not to mention acquiring the paranoia which dominated their actions thereafter. In HoR, I knew the “outfit refresh” rule would allow the PCs to get back their standard gear and spell-scrolls after the module was over, but they would have to play through the rest of the first round and all of the second round with whatever they managed to save from the ambush. (This was particularly debilitating for shugenja, most of whom had few if any “memorized” spells.) And of course any “certed items” which the PCs lost would be gone for good.

By this time the campaign was starting to build up a fair number of certs and the player-base was starting to show some early warning-signs of power-gaming, so I saw this as a good chance to remind the players that L5R was not about collecting cool gear and that one-dimensional “I have 5 Kenjutsu” characters were not a good idea. I did include an optional encounter in Round Two in which the PCs could choose to fight a difficult extra battle with the Goju and thereby regain _some_ of their equipment (in the process limiting their Honor/Glory losses) but I deliberately made it impossible for them to recover everything. As I often say: Evil Cheats. The folder of lost certs which I collected at GenCon, and occasionally added to later, ended up being a couple of inches thick.

Command of the Kami also saw an interesting example of a “call-back” to the early modules in the campaign. Since I wanted the Goju ambush to happen before the party actually reached the Unicorn lands, I had the PCs recreate the journey through unaligned lands from Arrows From the Woods, giving them the chance to revisit the different villages and see how things had changed in the intervening two years of game-time. I really liked doing this because it made the campaign’s world feel much more “alive,” not to mention that it got additional plot-mileage out of a module that had originally been a stand-alone with no larger storyline purpose. In fact, I liked this so much that I would bring the PCs back through the same region one more time in Year Five (in the module Fires of Retribution).

The second round of the module sent the PCs on another odyssey, this one through Unicorn lands to reach the Shrine of Otaku and sound the sacred horn that would bring the Desert Moto back to Rokugan. This round wasn’t as spectacularly dramatic as the ambush and Shinjo-confrontation in Round One, but included some interesting touches of its own, such as the campaign’s only encounter with the famous ronin Dairya, and the role-playing challenge of convincing the nuns (all former Otaku, of course) to let the PCs into the Shrine itself. A fun moment in playtest happened there when Parvez’ character Otaku “I can do anything better than a woman” Taro was forced to prostrate himself and kiss the abbess’ feet in order to gain admission.